Council unable to open Tallow Creek despite ‘putrid’ water

Algae covering flooded Tallow Creek, near Byron at Byron resort. Photo Leon Norman

Byron Shire Council says its permit to open Tallow Creek mouth cannot be activated, despite residents warning the quality of the water is ‘black and sulphurous’ with ‘algae covering large areas’.

The council says its permit to open the ICOLL (intermittently closed and open lake or lagoon), which forms at the mouth of the creek when the entrance is blocked by sand, means it can only act when water levels rise to 2.2 metres at Tallow Bridge.

But Suffolk Park resident Leon Norman says the creek has been within 50mm of that level ‘for more than four weeks’ and ‘bad things are happening’.

Mr Norman told Echonetdaily, that in the past 16 months the creek has flooded four times.

‘In November 2017, the water sat there for five weeks, became putrid, black and anaerobic,’ he said.

‘Most forest floor ferns died as well as the grass cover,’ he said. The putrefied vegetation rotted and caused oxygen depletion. Algae began to cover vast areas.

‘When a high sea and rain eventually opened the berm, the water rushed out .

‘The level dropped 1.3 metres and the surface area shrank to a quarter.

‘The putrid, sulphurous, anaerobic water remaining was concentrated and caused a huge number of fish to suffocate so that thousands of fish died floundering at the creek mouth,’ Mr Norman said.

He added, in early 2018 a flood event occurred but because it lasted ‘only a couple of days and the water was clean and fresh there was no fish kill when it opened’.

Mr Norman said he was also concerned about the presence of mosquitoes and the possibility of being infected with Ross River virus, as happened to a neighbour recently.

Unauthorised opening

But Byron Shire Council said the 2017 opening was not a natural occurrence and that the unauthorised way it was done is what created the conditions for a fish kill.

‘Unfortunately, there was an unauthorised opening of Tallow Creek in November last year and this caused a significant fish kill and we don’t want this to happen again,’ Council’s coastal and biodiversity coordinator, Chloe Dowsett said.

A council spokesperson told Echonetdaily Ms Dowsett met with Mr Norman at his property last Wednesday (July 18).

‘The water quality nearby Mr Norman’s property was tested, and Council has made a commitment to continue monitoring at this site when water levels are high,’ the spokesperson said.

‘Council acknowledges the community’s concerns regarding the environmental management issues at Tallow Creek, however, Council is bound by National Parks and Wildlife Service permit conditions which it cannot operate outside of,’ the spokesperson said

Health danger or flood risk

She added the council would only intervene ‘if the water quality is dangerous to human health, or if water levels pose a flood risk’.

‘Should the water level go beyond 2.2m then Council does have a permit from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to artificially open the mouth of Tallow Creek and a lot of consideration is given to making sure this is done properly to minimise the rapid release of water to the ocean and reduce the chance of a fish kill.’

Natural opening

Earlier this year, Council’s environmental health officer, Michael Bingham, inspected a large section of Tallow Creek and took water samples to investigate resident reports of odour and water discolouration.

He believes the odour and water discolouration were as a result of a natural event.

‘The test results included elevated ecoli, sulphate and low dissolved oxygen. These symptoms can be commonly attributed to black water flushed from wetlands,’ Mr Bingham said.

‘These observations, as well as the antecedent weather event give us a fair to high degree of confidence it was a natural event,’ Mr Bingham said.

He confirmed that no fish kill was reported in connection with the natural opening.

For more detailed information on Byron Shire Council’s Environmental Management Plan and Opening Strategy for Tallow Creek go to



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